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Entries from March 2019

Drifting in French....(the vocabulary is in the story)


Dear Jean-Marc,

Ha, you thought your birthday was over...but just one more thing before minuit: a letter of thanks.

Last night you said you had a surprise for me....

"But tomorrow is your birthday...."  

"Be ready by 9:30!" You countered, and though I tried I could not get you to cough up so much as a hint as to what kind of activity we'd be doing on your special day. Anything from lunch at a friend's vineyard to a glorious walk in your beloved calanques--was this a sea urchin month? I still haven't memorized the handy (you literally count the months on your knuckles) astuce that would tell us whether it was hunting season).

Don't miss the bus! You said this morning, and I began chucking all kinds of en-cas or just-in-cases into my backpack even though we might very well be going to the movies (but no, you are too much of an adventurer! I knew we weren't headed indoors). Pitching sunscreen, an extra sweater, tennis shoes and a water bottle and wearing a wide-brimmed chapeau, I followed you out to our car (ha! No bus! You were throwing me off track). Aha, you were also wearing your maillot de bain. So swimming might be involved....

As we drove along the coast here in La Ciotat the blue sea shimmered and white feathered  gabians swooped up and down the beach. Imagine that, I thought, our magnificent coastline was recently named one of the most beautiful bays in the world!

Oh, you've turned right...well, my guess was we were headed to the little Port of take our first ride in "Chrisline" (a traditional pointu--more about her later). You smiled, loving the game of leading me on.

After a detour in town in which we bought fresh daurade for lunch, we were heading toward our little port. Sure enough we were going to embark on the little red-trimmed boat! 


The owner, Jean-Louis met us at the dock and after a quick rundown we were heading out to sea!

How close we were to the water in this tiny fishing vessel, a pointu just like the ones you proudly showed me when I moved to Marseilles in 1992. Since that time, we've dreamed of this boat...and now the day had come. 

You planned simple itinerary--an aller-retour to L'isle Vert... And as we put-putted toward the horizon, I noticed the ocean spray (really the sea, but does one say "sea spray"?) Well I was now soaking in it! Oh well, the pros and cons of a little fishing boat!


With the help of many stolen kisses we reached The Green Island and pas un chat--not a cat in sight, but plenty of seagulls niched into the verdant coastline. We laughed at the memory of having lunch there, in the only restaurant on the tiny island (and it didn't have a the 4 of us (including Dad and Marsha) as casually as possible, filed past all the tables and, back to the dock (in plain view of the diners) slipped into the water for an impromptu swim! Ahhhhh! Never did a swim prove such a relief! Now back to the table for dessert...sly looks on everyone's faces except mine (which was as red and as embarrassed as the berries in my clafoutis !)

Having enjoyed that memory we talked about our dreams and our plans. That's when you turned off the engine and said, in French, "Let's drift." (Deriver, I believe is the verb you used.)

And so we drifted, the two of us, towards our favorite spot, La plage du Mugel. You pulled out two glasses and two different bottles. Sparkling water for me and Mas des Brun rosé for you. And we dreamed aloud, discussing a project-in-the works. If there is one thing that we love doing together, it is building something new--whether a garden or a vineyard. This time we are embarking on an entirely new path...or rather an outlet along our current path. And so we discussed the Day Tours we would like to organize for those readers with plans to visit France...

...Half-day Tours to vineyards, to calanques, and why not out to sea..on our little fishing boat?...

Just then your wine glass slid along the bow and the water began to rise up.... It's a little choppy out there, I said. 

Ce sont les moutons, you pointed out. The white-topped waves grew into a sea of "sheep" and our little boat began to rock....

We made it back to port, but I'm not sure an escapade at sea would appeal to everybody. A person would have to love the fine spray of sea (all over their body), and be able to relax when the sign reads "Pas de W.-C."....

Well, my love, we'll figure it out. Meantime, here's  to new projects and a new year ahead for you... "Mr. 52." 


Madame Pipi


I hope Jean-Marc enjoyed this letter. You can make it even better by dropping some hints in the comments: Let us know what kind of Half-day tour would interest you:

1. A Vineyards Tour (visit one or two of our favorite places, and lunch in a café or bistro)

2. A hike in one of our scenic calanques, or sea inlets, and lunch (picnic or restaurant?)

3. A visit to one of our neighboring towns, such as Cassis or Sanary or Bandol or La Ciotat (which just this week was voted Most Beautiful Bay in the world!)

4. Cooking Together: We'll revisit our favorite family recipes and cook them here in our kitchen: La Tarte Tomate, Daurade au four, classic French salad (secrets, secrets...) and the classic yogurt cake. (Thanks, Frances, for this suggestion!)

....and, of course....

5. A ride in our Provencal fishing boat. She creaks a bit..not bad for being almost one hundred years old!

Thanks for choosing your favorite tour and adding any ideas in the comments, below.

For additional photos and videos, visit my Instagram account and be sure to hit the follow button.


Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.

My French Garden and retirement?


Today's words: prendre sa retraite

   : to retire

*.  *.  *

"You work too hard," my mom says. "You should retire."

Who? Me? Work too much? How could writing one or two posts a week make one a workaholic? Un bourreau de travail ?

*.  *.  *

Today marks three weeks away from my desk and it is beginning to show me something about the creative process:

Writing is 20 or 30 or 40 percent of the effort...

The other 60 or 70 or 80 percent is the "steam engine" behind the story: it is the words and sentences that file through your brain throughout the day and sometimes at night, no matter where you are--at home or away on vacation. What was the F. Scott Fitzgerald book in which two characters, a husband and wife, are at a dinner party and the wife looks over at the husband whose lips are moving as he stares at the ceiling?

"Darling! What are you doing?" She says.

I'm working! He snips.

The writing engine never stops completely (oh, the stories I've begun in my head since landing in the U.S. None have made it to the physical composition stage, and yet all of them have kept me occupied, or preoccupied).

I am not complaining about any of this, but want to highlight a little pépin, or glitch, about creation: It can slowly wear you down. 

I realize Mom is right, and now it is a matter of tweaking (I need to tweak the way I live my writing life).

My friend Kirsten took me to The Tattered Cover Book Store in Littleton, where I spied a humble garden journal. I've spent this morning (now back at my sister, Heidi's) sipping coffee and sketching my yard back in France: the fruit trees, herbs, the pond...even the bees. My niece, Reagan, shared her coloring pencils and the activity became even more enjoyable and revealing...

I had thought my garden had gone to pot, but I now see many of the plants are surviving the neglect. It gives me hope and a goal for when I return to France next week. It is a simple plan, and here it is:

Water. Tend. Visit. 

Water the plants and also the dreams you've forgotten. Lovingly tend the garden and the precious hours in your day. Visit the seedlings and other blooming things (new friendships, new interests).

I'm off now to spend time with my sister. We're going lunch together. Perhaps here in the beautiful botanical garden in Denver. It's a good place to dream and to rest before returning to my desk in La Ciotat. I have no plans to retire and, God-willing, will write until I'm ninety-five. More time to practice, to learn, and to share with you. 



P.S. Here is a link to the garden journal I bought. It has inspiring quotes and prompts (see below) on the pages.

I also picked up a book called The Writers Practice: Building Confidence in your Nonfiction Writing, as reading about writing can be helpful...when you are away from the work. 

P.S.S. Still working on my garden diagram. Click on the image below to enlarge it. MVIMG_20190321_094853

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.

Je vais m'allonger...


Jean-Marc and I at The Bookworm of Edwards, with Hedy and Mark who surprised us. 

*.  *.  *

"Je vais m'allonger." As soon as my daughter said it, I knew it was the perfect phrase to share with you today.

Je vais m'allonger = I'm just going to lie down for a bit

This journal is on a little break, doctor's orders (actually it was my Mom who suggested some time off. And guess what? I'm listening to her) I'll keep today's entry short and sweet....

Je vais m'allonger, Jackie said, when she returned from work last night. She is staying with us at our rental here in Avon, Colorado.

I understand why she'd want to lie down at 6:30 p.m. I'd seen her in action earlier when Jean-Marc, Max and I visited her at work (she is a cocktail waitress at the Ritz Carlton. Voilà vous savez tout!)

Earlier at lunch, seated on a large couch facing a crackling fireplace, Max and I watched Jackie (dressed sleekly in black, wearing a Ritz apron) take orders from the family one couch over. The Mom was saying:

My daughter will have the tomato soup and grilled cheese. Can you make that gluten free? My son will have a large glass of milk...and I'm going to share the sliders with my husband. Also could we have ...

As the order grew, Max and I noticed Jackie was not jotting anything down, until finally she smiled and said, "Thank you. That'll be right out. Your room number please? (These three digits added additional bits of information, and now Max and I were really sweating it for Jackie (would she remember the gluten free bread?? Would she!), who now made her way through a crowded room to place the order--a few Excuse me Misses... along the way.

It's been thrilling to be here watching Jackie at work. And when we're not busy being awkwardly discreet guests at the cocktail lounge, we're enjoying being back in America and observing cultural differences (it is snowing here near Vail and I saw a woman wearing a mini skirt (bare legs) at the grocery store! I've also witnessed several men wearing shorts! You would NOT see this in the French Alps...unless an Englishman was there :-)


A most-lovely group holding copies of my book Words in a French Life

Photo taken at Sunday's wine tasting and book signing in Edwards, Colorado (Thanks once again to The Bookworm of Edwards!). Jean-Marc and I were deeply touched by the encouragement and stories that attendees shared.

Whether you have read this journal from the beginning...or just signed on, I thank you for being here. It keeps me writing...and writing keeps me in awe of everyday life. (And naps help to process it all. Donc, je vais m'allonger....)



P.S. We will be in the States for two more weeks. I'm posting photos from our trip here, please hit the follow button and see the latest at my Instagram account.


Enjoying every moment with my daughter.


...when most of my family showed up at Jackie's lieu de travail...or place of work! And one more pic, below ..because my sister, Heidi (in green) was missing from the first photo. 


Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.

Avoir un creux... Hitchcock's Blanket in France & Helping Tessa pack

Kristi Max Jackie Jean-Marc Espinasse family
My family and I hope to see many of you at the March 10th booksigning and winetasting in Colorado! More info at The Bookworm of Edwards. Click here.

Good news! Those interested in Jean-Marc's latest (American) wine "Ephemera" will now find a list of addresses for where to buy it here, at the end of this post.

Today's Expression: Avoir un creux

    : to be a little hungry, peckish

Try 2001 French and English idioms and some more useful expressions. Order here.


A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

In the Golden List of Life Experiences I have something to add: J'ai dormi sous la couverture de Hitchcock! (I slept beneath Hitchcock's blanket!)

On Friday night, in a partly-converted barn in Lorgues--chilled from both the Mistral wind and from sleeping alone in the countryside--I fell into a deep slumber. It may have been the weight of so many couvertures piled on top of me, or the bouillottes Tessa gave me to tuck between the sheets--but I quickly fell to sleep despite all 'the scaries.'

The next morning I opened the creaky green shutters to a bright blue sky and to the immense relief of not having been murdered. My wild imagination was now being fed by softer scenes, thanks to a field of yellows and pinks: both the almond and mimosa trees were in bloom! I stepped outside onto a patio of giant pavers and went up the familiar stairs beside the old Tilleul tree whose leaves and blossoms I've enjoyed in many an herbal tea.

Hello Darling! Tessa greeted me in her kitchen, where the smell of coffee and the wagging tails of two little dogs made me smile. My friend and I looked around at the boxes we had packed the day before, and went over the game plan for the day: Let's start with breakfast in the salon, then pack the cooking and art supplies, then lunch on the terrace. And this, dear reader is some of what you need to know about my longtime friend and artist: delicious food, beautiful art, and the importance of meals beneath Cézanne's sky!

How quickly lunch arrived... Tess mentioned feeling peckish and I thought she was in pain (I myself had gotten a bloody paper cut from running my finger up the side of a cardboard box...)

(peckish = avoir un creux)

It turns out peckish means a little hungry ( I don't think we say this in American English?). And what a spread my English friend made, with pan-fried salmon over a bed of mesclun, avocados, and haricots rouge. Only Tessa Baker could manage a gourmet meal amidst the chaos and stress of un déménagement! I slathered salty butter over fresh pain complet and we settled in for a bite as the winter sun warmed the skin beneath our sweaters and jeans. Oh the feeling of a hot day in March! 

Thomas looking down to the terrace.

With Tilly and Thomas and Bubbles (dogs and cat of the house) weaving in and out, we resumed packing. Tess has a lot of beautiful pottery from Provence and I carefully wrapped it in bubbles (not the cat...) although we used everything but the pets to cushion the china and the fluted glasses... 

You can use these, too, Tessa offered.  I was amazed to see a box full of fabric samples (for dressmaking? curtains? pillows?) in silk and satin and embroidered linen, each piece (of varying sizes) marked by a cardboard tag with information about the fiber and exquisite design. Ah well, they sure came in handy at a time like this... And how brilliant to be putting these antique threads to good use!

Having used the entire box of finecloth échantillons to wrap les faïences we turned to other possibilities for padding fragile items--everything from kitchen towels (both paper and fabric) to aprons to nappes and old blankets.

After filling a box with saucepans I looked around for something to cover the lot, when Aha! I ran back to my room to get that old blanket I'd tossed on the bed last night. Returning to the kitchen I went to throw it over the casseroles when Tessa's said, No, not that one. That was made by Alfred Hitchcock's daughter... and was a gift to my father.

I looked down at the humble blanket (it had reminded me of the afghans my Mom crocheted for me and my sister) and saw, in the afternoon light, the fine mohair...

As thrilling as it was to learn I'd slept beneath a blanket made by Alfred Hitchcock's own flesh and blood, had I known I don't think I'd have chosen this bedcover last night...when every creak and bump in the night gave me quite a fright!

*.    * .  *

Another discovery Chez Tess, was the beautiful voice of Ane Brun which filled the rooms as we packed. You might enjoy her music, here.


la bouillotte = hot-water bottle

la couverture = blanket

un échantillon = sample, swatch (fabric)

une nappe = tablecloth

avoir un creux = to be a little hungry, peckish

le mesclun = mixed salad leaves

Tilleul = Lime (as in lime-blossom tea)

le salon = living room

le haricot rouge = kidney bean

le déménagement = move

le pain complet = whole wheat bread

la casserole = saucepan

More in Mastering French Vocabulary


Tilly and Bubbles the cat. And, below, that's Thomas in the backseat and my friend Tessa, the artist behind the Paint Provence with Tess tours.

Tessa thomas

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.